SA Tomorrow Plan Reignites Annexation Debate

Print Share on LinkedIn Comments More
Map of proposed annexation areas in the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan draft.

Map of proposed annexation areas in the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan draft.

For the City of San Antonio, the question remains: to annex or not to annex? The recently released SA Tomorrow plan draft, a massively unwieldy 900-plus pages, offers no answer to the politically contentious question.

SA Tomorrow, the signature initiative of Mayor Ivy Taylor, is broken into three draft reports that contain guidelines, priority suggestions, and policy recommendations, but it’s up to City Council to boil it all down to an action plan. Originally scheduled for a Council vote in June, that timeline has been pushed back until August 11 at the request of the Planning Commission and the preference of Council members who want to read the tomes and reach their own conclusions about the priorities the plan sets for the 2017 bond, future budgets, and Unified Development Code updates.

City officials told the Rivard Report that they are not expecting any major changes to the draft plan.

“San Antonio can develop a comprehensive approach to annexation that is consistent with growth forecasts and that ensures newly annexed residents receive the same level of service as current residents – without creating undue burdens on the city,” the plan states. Finding that balance will be up to the Council.

Baseline studies performed by independent consultants for the City and working groups that developed the three-pronged plan – which includes Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation and Comprehensive plans – analyzed the City’s annexation plans with the understanding that the push for greater infill development isn’t going to stop continuing sprawl that places growing stress on the City’s utility and public safety services.

(Click the following links to download full copies of the draft plans: Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation and Comprehensive.)

“Even though (SA Tomorrow) is advocating for infill development, we know development is going to happen outside (Loop) 1604. It’s a given,” said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni after City Council members were briefed Wednesday. “While the Council can guide direction of growth, we have to plan for both (infill and suburban growth).”

Council will take up the annexation issue and its options on June 15 when it reviews conflicting reports on the pros and cons of annexation.

City staff originally proposed annexation of 66 square miles, most of it outside Loop 1604, by the end of 2016 (see map above). Those plans were delayed after concerns were expressed by residents, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and other stakeholders. Tech Bloc, an advocacy group that burst on to the political scene last summer and will celebrate its first anniversary in June with a high profile event at the Tobin Centre for the Performing Arts, commissioned an independent study that produced far more pessimistic financial projections than the City’s report. Both were released earlier this year.

Tech Bloc’s study, performed by HR&A Advisors, strongly cautions against annexation and aggressively challenged the City’s optimistic financial assumptions resulting from annexation.

“(The City’s analysis) may moderately underestimate costs associated with annexation; it is likely to significantly overestimate revenue associated with annexation; and it does not sufficiently evaluate the risk of downside scenarios,” the report stated.

The report goes on to state that the City’s assumption of growth in suburban areas is “far from certain” as more citizens, particularly Millennials, demand more sustainable urban lifestyle options.

“Affluent professionals are increasingly choosing to live in central cities rather than suburban communities,” the report states.

Zanoni and others point to this as one of the flaws of the study. “Nationally that could be the case, but in San Antonio we don’t see that being true,” he said. City policies now accommodate continuing sprawl, and do not hold developers financially accountable for so-called “greenfield development” or offer aggressive incentives for infill development. The result? While infill development continues to pick up, suburban sprawl and its cost continues apace. SA Tomorrow calls for enhanced incentives for infill development.

The City’s study was performed by The PFM Group. Click here to download Tech Bloc report and here for the City report.

The City expects that, even if the annexation plan is carried out, 60% of development in the next 25 years will be inside Loop 1604, concentrated in regional centers. Yet 40% of the 1.1 million new residents expected by 2040 will settle outside Loop 1604, Zanoni said, although he didn’t address whether changing incentives could alter that outcome. “We couldn’t fit a million people in the city.”

The SA Tomorrow’s draft Comprehensive plan suggests the City “should reexamine the existing priority annexation areas. The current priority annexation areas seem to be the logical areas for continued annexation. However, they should be revisited to ensure they match with the revised policy and goals developed through SA Tomorrow and consider the priorities of the City for annexation.”

This revision process has already begun, Zanoni said, and will be presented to Council during its June 15 meeting.


Top image: Map of proposed annexation areas in the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan draft.  

Related Stories:

Council to Vote on SA Tomorrow Plans, Anti-Idling Ordinance

SA Tomorrow Seeks Public Input for Comprehensive Plan

Feedback Needed on SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan

SA Tomorrow: Virtual Town Hall Shows Future of Civic Engagement

Rivard: A Bond and a Vision for San Antonio

2 thoughts on “SA Tomorrow Plan Reignites Annexation Debate

  1. Iris, no doubt the plans are lengthy but I don’t want anyone to be discouraged by the number of pages. Each of the three plans are relatively easy to read and offer a lot of photos and renderings to lend to understanding. Thank you for your coverage. Thank you to everyone in our community who participated and contributed to the effort!

  2. San Antonio’s annexation discussions becomes more interesting, I think, when you start looking at the proposed annexation areas as well as the draft SATomorrow plans through the lens of (and the maps and action steps included with) the City’s recently (and seemingly very quietly) finalized FEMA Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (HMAP).


    SATomorrow’s draft Comprehensive Plan doesn’t seem to reference the City’s adopted HMAP whatsoever. The draft Sustainability Plan picks up on aspects of the City’s HMAP but seems to downplay or ignore key identified hazards and related City adopted HMAP action steps. Including but not limited to:

    – action 4: disseminate information to residents on how to mitigate…homes to extreme heat [including by filling/re-using vacant structures and avoiding sprawl/development in the City’s Wildland-Urban Interface / high wildfire risk areas – which seems to include proposed annex areas]

    – action 9: adopt and enforce the current International Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Code [which adds burdens to the construction of buildings and other land development in the City’s Wildland-Urban Interface, including in regards to emergency response capabilities and facilities – potentially impacting the feasibility or costs of annexation for development of some proposed areas]

    – action 13: work with State and City departments to reduce fuel [including natural gas pipelines] on public and private lands, easements, and right of ways [with annexation areas including or potentially requiring – if developed – new fuel pipeline infrastructure]. Related is action 36: partner with pipeline companies, agencies and organizations to keep areas in the vicinity of oil and gas pipelines safe and secure, and report suspicious behavior or activity near pipelines [in other words, not only minimize pipeline development in San Antonio, keep people away from pipelines – which could shape the City’s annexation and other plans]

    – action 15: expand brush pickup program, frequency and locations to reduce amount and length of time fire fuels are present on City and private property [an expansion of current City services that would need to be considered with the costs of any annexation for development]

    – action 23: purchase open space in flood-prone areas to keep land free from construction in perpetuity [which might hearten Alliance for San Antonio Missions advocates as well as shape annexation and other plans]. Related is action 39: acquire properties in flood prone areas with priority given to repetitive flood loss structures

    – action 28: upgrade drainage channels along the Union Pacific rail road tracks [including the originally proposed Lonestar Commuter Rail Line to Austin] to reduce flooding to adjacent residential and commercial structures [emphasis on this particular rail corridor and the required work needed to improve drainage along it provides opportunity to achieve the Mayor’s vision of multiple-purpose new infrastructure such as a protecyed pedestrian trail along the rail line and new development along the rail-with-trail corridor, potentially shaping annexation as well as other plans]

    – action 30: adopt and implement smart growth initiatives that incorporate the adopted Hazard Mitigation Plan in long-term community development planning activities [including by updating the draft SAtomorrow Comprehensive Plan annually based on the City’s adopted HMAP. In other words, lead SAtomorrow and other planning with the City’s adopted HMAP]

    In addition to the above actions, San Antonio’s Hazard Mitigation Action Plan (HMAP) details roughly one hundred actions steps for the City to take to address stormwater runoff and flooding of streets and property within the existing footprint of the city – including high priority and high cost work that doesn’t seem to have shaped more recent planning or annexation discussions.

    The City’s HMAP also focuses to the potential hazard of aging flat roof structures downtown and elsewhere in the city in need of repair based on modern code – presenting a tremendous opportunity to not only perform a downtown rooftop assessment (a City adopted action through the HMAP) but introduce green roofs policy beyond City/public buildings (as suggested by the SATomorrow draft sustainability plan to help mitigate a range of identified potential hazards as well as help improve environmental conditions and the City’s identity and (vertical, solar, urban farming, rainwater collection etc) growth potential.

    I’ve posted to the Rivard Report previously (via comments) about the City’s FEMA Hazard Mitigation Plan, but haven’t noted any in-depth coverage of this important local planning process (drafted in January 2015 and recently finalized) or the action steps the City has elected to adopt with the final plan. More critically, I haven’t felt that key identified hazards and determined actions within the City’s HMAP have shaped recent community discussions or planning – from annexation to Broadway development to Lonestar Rail to SAtomorrow to annual budgeting (SASpeakup) to VIA planning and purchases to ozone/air pollution action to CPS Energy planning to the Mayor’s ideas about multiple-pupose new infrastructure to 2017 bond projects.

    Hopefully the Rivard Report can help at least bring the City’s HMAP – the only finalized ‘SA Tomorrow’ plan at this point – into these and other discussions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *